Tomorrow, the citizens of my new home country, the Republic of Moldova, will head to the polls to elect a new parliament. The official campaigning is now over but my goodness, what a wild ride it has been!
The Situation As It Now Stands
The last parliamentary elections were held in 2009. There are 101 seats in parliament and the party that received the most votes was the Communist Party, which has 44 seats. The parliament chooses both the Prime Minister as well as the President (unlike in Romania where the president is elected by the people in a separate vote).
Three pro-EU parties banded together to gain the majority, choosing one of their own to be Prime Minister and President. They then used their ruling coalition to sign documents making Moldova a prospective future member of the EU (and potentially NATO as well). As a result of this, EU flags now wave in front of the Moldovan parliament, which is a little strange because Moldova is still a long way from becoming a member.
The polls that I’ve seen predict that approximately half the voters will choose one of the pro-EU parties and half will choose one of the anti-EU (and pro-Russia) parties.
Making a Real Difference
I’ve been living in so-called “democracies” all of my life, but as the late, great Bill Hicks once said, usually there are just two mainstream parties, scarcely different than the other.
In America, the Republicans are bad (or good) for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until a Democratic is in power and then it becomes good (or bad). Likewise in Britain, where Tories and Labour obsess over their tiny differences when they look almost identical to an outside observer.
Even in Romania, my beloved country, millions of people cheered when Klaus defeated Ponta, and yet there’s barely a difference between them. Six months ago the two men were political allies, Klaus being considered for a position in Ponta’s cabinet. And yet no one wants to hear that, with several Romanian commentators jumping down my throat last week for failing to be excited that an obscenely rich man convicted of corrupt practices defeated his moronic and slightly more corrupt political “adversary” by a few percentage points.
But over here in Moldova? Oh boy. There are over 20 parties registered for tomorrow’s elections and they truly do represent a wide spectrum of truly differing political ideologies.
My favorite so far, “favorite” meaning the craziest, is the Reformed Communist Party of Moldova, whose electoral slogan is “WE ARE AGAINST EVERYTHING”. Yep, that’s it. There’s not one word on their website or in any of their campaign literature of what they are for.
All they say is they are “against everything” and to that end, they have hired many young adults (at least here in Chisinau) to go around the city and spraypaint that slogan (sometimes using the Romanian – impotriva totul) all over the place.
There’s almost no chance that the Reformed Communist Party will garner enough votes to enter the parliament but hey, the concept of “vote for none of the above” makes me laugh because it reminds me of the movie Brewster’s Millions, wherein a political candidate (Richard Pryor) runs a nearly identical campaign, spending good money to tell voters not to vote for him.
The Ghost in the Machine
I’ve been keeping a steady eye on the electoral coverage in the Moldovan, Romanian and even the English-language media and all of it makes it seem as though this is a very one-sided election – everyone simply loves the European Union!
I’ve seen many verbose and poetic editorials waxing lyrical about the beauty of joining NATO (less popular an idea here than joining the EU) and how gosh darn awesome it will be to have American warplanes “defending” Moldova against the enemy that Must Not Be Named (shhh, it’s Russia).
I’ve seen Romanian president-elect Klaus Iohannis come to Moldova to stump for PM Iurie Leanca, both men agreeing that joining the EU is just awesome sauce and eternal candy rainbows and prancing unicorns for everyone. I’ve seen the three big pro-EU parties (PL, PDRM and PDM) saturate the streets of Chisinau with billboards about how a glorious EU future is just around the corner. Angela Merkel and other EU big honchos have all nodded sagely and agreed that it’s just simply inconceivable that there is any choice but for Moldova to join the EU (and possibly NATO).
And yet… somehow, some way, the anti-EU (also known as pro-Russia) parties are still managing to poll at about 50% of the electorate. How can this be? Even in the Russian-language media here, all you see are stories about how super dandy and beautiful the EU is and how awful and evil Russia is.
Some Moldovans I know have been getting their mobile phones blasted with SMS (text messages) about how if the anti-EU factions win there will be blood in the streets, a “Ukraine-style” revolution and widespread anarchy and chaos. The Russian menace is looming everywhere and yesterday’s Adevarul (a Romanian newspaper with a local edition here in Moldova) had an article about how Russia is flooding the country with “terrorists”.
Indeed, this week the news was full of images and reports about a daring multi-city raid, the police swooping in and breaking up a pro-Russia group called “Antifa” (meaning anti-fascist), who had a stockpile of weapons and cash and were preparing to “seize power” on Sunday if the elections don’t go their way.
Basescu, Ponta, Iohannis, the current leadership of Moldova (including both president and prime minister), Angela Merkel, the big dogs of the EU, even Vladimir Voronin (the leader of the Communist Party, for chrissakes!) are all in favor of joining the EU.
And yet… somehow… half the population is still against it. How can this be?
More Sickle, Less Hammer
The accusation that you hear over and over again is that evil, sneaky, mean Russia is spending millions to flood Moldova with lies and propaganda, thus bamboozling the poor, innocent Moldovans. The lament is that if only people would switch off the mendacious Russian TV channels, they would come to their senses and vote for the “correct” and obvious choice – a prosperous and bright future as a member of the EU (and possibly NATO as well).
But this attitude is rather condescending. Moldovans aren’t stupid and it only takes a moment’s glance to see that the real propaganda and meddling is coming from the United States.
It’s hard to see in this image (my good camera was not available) but this billboard is sponsored by two American government agencies. The text is saying how the EU has already helped build or repair 800km of roadways and how great and awesome it is to have good roads, the implication being “vote for the EU and you’ll get more sweet highways” because everyone knows that the Russians hate roads.
Furthermore, several Moldovan media (including newspapers and television channels) are partly or entirely funded by the Americans. PM Leanca has already made several trips to Washington where he was photographed being given a pat on the back by “Uncle” Joe Biden.
Even the arrest of the “coup plotters”, the “sinister” Antifa group, is not what it seems. One guy who was arrested has already told the press that the guns that were seized were his legal property, properly registered (gun ownership is far more common in RM than in Romania) and that he isn’t even a member of Antifa. I myself saw the images that the police released to the press and the “millions” in cash stacked on a table looked to be about 1000 Moldovan lei, or the equivalent of about 50 euros (or $75 American).
Really? That’s a group that’s about to “seize power” and lead a revolution? Even the official Antifa group spokesperson says there are only 600 members of his group, a number that’s probably inflated. Even if he’s speaking the truth, it’s hard to see how 600 guys (most of whom look like bored kids in their late teens) could storm parliament and “take over” the country with 50 euros and a dozen guns.
Likewise, this week the papers were full of stories about how Renato Usatii (a guy whose name is never pronounced the same way twice) and his “Our Party” party has now been legally barred from tomorrow’s elections. The “crime”? Accepting 15 million Moldovan lei (about $1 million dollars) from a “foreign source”, the Evil That Must Not Be Named country of Russia.
I have no idea if accepting campaign money from Russia is illegal or not. What I do know, however, is that the Electoral Commission held their judicial session behind closed doors, barring any reporters from hearing or seeing the evidence against Usatii and his party. Nobody will ever know what the evidence really was (or wasn’t). All we know is what the Electoral Commission deigned to tell the public.
Usatii is a clown (the Romanian channel Digi24 said he is the Moldovan equivalent of Gigi Becali) and it’s not likely his party would even garner enough votes to win a single seat in parliament, but it makes for good copy to ban his party amidst secret allegations of colluding with the sinister Russians.
I have no idea how much money Russia is officially (or unofficially) spending in order to influence tomorrow’s elections but I do know that it can’t be very much. Russian state media, including their “evil” news channels, barely mention the country at all.
On the other hand, the United States government is legally (I presume) spending millions on billboards and other campaign material to promote the pro-EU parties. The American-financed television channels are regularly broadcasting hyperbolic propaganda, including one spot that I saw which literally stated that if the pro-EU parties don’t win then there will be war. Fucking hell.
Money or Pride?
In case your Romanian is rusty, this Socialist Party’s ad is saying “better to be aligned with Russia than be poor and in the EU’s debt”. That’s about the most honest assessment I’ve seen so far.
On one hand, many Moldovans speak Romanian and identify with Romania, and would love to be a full member of the EU (and possibly NATO), aligned with their ethnic cousins, and go travel and work in the EU.
On the other hand, approximately half the Moldovan workforce is now in Russia and their families back home rely on that income to survive. Most Moldovans speak Russian and the current visa regime with Russia makes it fairly easy to work in that country. If ties were cut with Russia, it would be a disaster for anyone who lives or works in Russia.
Very few Moldovans speak western European languages and would find it hard to get a job in Germany, Britain or Italy. Romanians (and Bulgarians) have already swelled the ranks of immigrants in those countries and it’s doubtful that Moldovans would be welcome there (other than as tourists).
Pissing off Russia, losing the eligibility to travel and work in Russia, and facing higher costs to send money back home from Russia would destroy this country. The majority of Moldovans who work in their own country are employed in the agricultural sector and export their products to Russia. They would need extensive help (and subsidies) from the EU in order to stay afloat.
And while Romanians often feel a cultural kinship to Moldovans, it’s easy to love your distant cousin when he stays in his (far away) home. It’s quite another thing to accommodate millions of Moldovan job seekers flooding into Romania, putting an enormous burden on the budget and the economy.
Due to linguistic and cultural differences, there is already a lot of hostility between Moldovans and Romanians, and that would only be exacerbated in a hypothetical future where an EU-member Moldova has hungry citizens with the right to work and live in Romania.
So yeah, it’s a wonderful and warm, fuzzy thought to join the EU and NATO, be elevated to the ranks of Germany and France, and have paved roads and high-paying jobs and modern schools that educate the children to become sparkling geniuses. But the reality is that the economy is completely dependent on Russia, and the Moldovan people are not equipped to work anywhere besides Russia, and Moldovan farmers are not set up to export their products to the EU.
Are the Russians sneaky and devious? I am quite sure they are, although it’s hardly what you see in the blatantly propagandist Romanian-language media. I can’t say I really like Vladimir Putin and I certainly don’t relish him making weekly phone calls to a victorious Socialist/Communist leadership.
But what I do know is that Leanca, Filat and even crazy old Vladimir Voronin are completely unequipped to guide Moldova into a tighter alliance with the west. Moldovans are currently benefiting from both Russia and the EU, and so times are good. But making a hard choice and alienating Russia will be disastrous at this point.
Romania has been a member of the EU for years and I’ve yet to see a single benefit come of it. Yes, many Romanians can now legally work and live abroad, but this constitutes a brain drain on their home country, as increasingly the only people left behind are the corrupt, the impoverished elderly and those too stupid to find a way to get out.
Corruption is rife within Romania, as last week’s presidential election showed – a contest between a plagiarist sociopath and a corrupt millionaire who proudly boasts of ignoring the EU-mandated National Integrity Agency (ANI).
The Romanian judicial system is a joke (as I found out personally this summer LOL) and nothing works as it should. There hasn’t been a single post-Revolution election held in Romania that was fair and honest and the Constitution has been infringed several times by parties on all sides of the political spectrum, often in an extremely blatant fashion.
Millions of euros are wasted annually to “upgrade” military equipment in order to “maintain NATO standards”, which is just a cover for Germany, France and the United States to increase their arms sales to Romania. And for what? To have a chance to go die in Afghanistan while killing innocent women and children? Or to bomb Serbia? That’s all NATO has accomplished in 80 years besides a lot of hot air and bombastic propaganda.
Prices in Romania are astronomical, largely due to EU regulations and laws. It is inconceivable that a kilogram of onions costs 2-3 times more in Romania than in Moldova. Smuggling of alcohol and cigarettes is a widespread practice, leading to further corruption of border guards and officials, precisely because of artificially high EU rules on excise duties.
The only Moldovans who love the idea of joining the EU are the ones who have never been to Romania or the rest of the EU. It’s great to see well-paved highways and clean, well-lit supermarkets but it’s not quite so wonderful when you see just how much those things really cost.
But Sam, what about…
Ah yes, what about how evil Russia is? Jesus, I get so tired of the propaganda. There is plenty to hate about Russia and Vladimir Putin, but most of it isn’t what you hear in the media.
In the summer of 2008, the Russian forces invaded the Republic of Georgia. Within a couple of weeks, they had routed the Georgian Army and then set up the de facto independent state of South Ossetia. Gosh, those Russians are evil!
I’ve been following Georgian politics since the late 90s. The country is divided ethnically, with large populations of people who are not ethnic Georgians. There are Armenians, Ossetians, Abkhazians and even an ethnic-Georgian-but-Muslim (most Georgians are Christian) people, none of whom really like Tblisi (the capital of Georgia) that much.
Saakashvili (the president of Georgia in 2008) is about as corrupt as they come, and he was in power at the time precisely because his chief political rival conveniently died in his home after an “accident” with a space heater that flooded his home with carbon monoxide gas.
Before the Russians “invaded” in 2008, Saakashvili had already done his own bit of invading, having used his NATO-trained army to overrun Adjara and capture the valuable port of Batumi. Saakashvili then turned his guns on Ossetia, planning to do the same.
The ethnic Ossetians living in South Ossetia were under attack by Georgian forces in 2008. Yes, Russia invaded, and yes, Russia supports a semi-independent state of South Ossetia, but there has never been one move to annex South Ossetia into the Russian Federation. The presence of Russian troops merely serve to prevent the Georgian Army from committing genocide against those “pesky” Ossetians, many of who have relatives and friends across the line in North Ossetia (which is part of the Russian Federation).
But wait, what about those evil Russians annexing Crimea?
Again, it’s easy to make one side “angels” and the other side “devils”, but the bald historical truth is that Crimea was a part of the Russian Empire for centuries. During the Soviet era, the lunatic premier Kruschev (who was an ethnic Ukrainian) decided to spontaneously “move” Crimea from Russian to Ukrainian jurisdiction.
That was all well and good during the Soviet days, when it was only a matter of paperwork, but after the dissolution of the Soviet Union it took on new significance. The Russian Navy has an important base in Crimea and the events of 2014 put that in serious jeopardy.
Say what you will but Crimea has been annexed for a while now and things look very peaceful there. Many ethnic Ukrainians still live there and the economy and civil society are humming along nicely, in sharp contrast to both Donetsk and the rest of Ukraine.
Speaking of Kruschev, few people today realize that he took one of Romania’s greatest cities and likewise “moved” it from Moldova to Ukraine.
At the end of World War 2, Cernauti (now Chernivtsi) was just 1 of 5 Romanian cities with a university and it was one of the wealthiest cities in the kingdom. Due to Romania’s disastrous political choices during WW2, all of “Bessarabia” was lost to the Soviet Union, including Cernauti. The city should’ve been part of the Moldovan SSR but Kruschev transferred it to Ukraine, where it still belongs today.
I had a chance to go there this summer (and I need to write a full post about it) and it is still a wonderful and beautiful city. I’m just surprised that some enterprising Ukrainian (or Russian) politician isn’t flooding the airwaves with a trumped-up threat of Romania “invading” Ukraine to annex Cernauti. Why not? After all, there are still villages in Chernivsti Oblast who speak Romanian and might long to be “returned to the fold”.
Another foolish choice made in the Soviet era was giving a strip of land east of the Dniester River to Moldova. The “natural” borders of RM to the west are the Prut River (the border with Romania) and the Dniester River in the east (the border with Ukraine).
And yet somehow a strip of very, very productive agricultural land to the east of the Dniester, a piece of land that had never belonged to Moldova, was given to Moldova during the Soviet Era and became known as Transnistria (literally “across the Dniester River”). The majority of the people living there are not ethnic Moldovans and never have been.
In 1990, before Moldova even officially declared independence from the Soviet Union, the people of Transnistria tried to separate from the rest of Moldova. There was a brief bout of fighting and then Moldovan forces withdrew, allowing Soviet (now Russian) forces to keep the fragile peace.
Time and again you will hear idiots in the west talk about how an Russian invasion of Transnistria is “imminent”, which is absurd. Russia has no designs to do such a thing and would not benefit in any way from doing so. Here in Moldova, nobody has any desire to do anything about it either, and not a single political party has even mentioned it.
During this campaign season, I spoke to representatives of dozens of political parties (including the “Anti-Mafia” party, which has no agenda other than the fact that they hate the “mafias”, as well as PLR, which is “anti-oligarchs” and seemingly nothing else) and asked every single one, “What is your political position on Transnistria?”
To a man (or woman), they were all surprised by the question. The pro-Russia parties are in favor of a federalized Moldova, similar to the Russian constitution, composed of several autonomous “states”, including one for the Gagauz (an ethnic Turkish people in Moldova) and Transnistria.
The pro-EU parties, on the other hand, have no answer except more “talk”, literally promoting an endless dialogue that will never resolve anything. Transnistria is already de facto independent and does exactly what it wants to, including issuing passports to its citizens and license plates for its cars. They drive across the “border” to Moldova with impunity and run many of the bigger businesses here in Chisinau. Nobody is going to invade anybody and not even the American military can bomb the people of Transnistria into acquiescence.
But Sam, you’re such a Russian apologist, how do you defend Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine?
Jesus. Again, it’s always easy to make snap judgements when you don’t live there and have never been there. Yes, Russia is no angel and yes, Russia has sent soldiers and weapons to support the fighting in the east. And yet Russia has no plans to recognize an independent state (or states) in eastern Ukraine, despite the fact that the pro-Russian leaders in the east have been begging them to do so (just as the leaders of Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have also done).
Russia, in all of the above cases, supports a federalized country with the areas in question given autonomous status, exactly the way similar regions in Russia itself are organized. In fact, the “autonomous region in a federation” solution is also what they proposed for Kosovo. Instead of taking that route, the United States and its EU allies unilaterally supported complete independence and sovereignty for Kosovo, leading to the mess that we have today.
If we’re being objective about it, Russia has had four chances (Donetsk/Lugansk, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia) to support an independent sovereign pro-Russian country and never once done so. America and its allies, on the other hand, supported complete independence for Kosovo and only reluctantly acquiesced to the federalization of Bosnia. Therefore, if any one side is a true threat to a country’s sovereignty, it’s America and the West, not Russia.
In the case of Ukraine, it’s also important to realize just how fucked up that country is on every single level. The country is gigantic, over 1000km from east to west, has more citizens than Germany and yet has been destroyed by waves of historical atrocities ranging from Nazi invasions to Soviet-era holocausts.
Right now, after the recent elections, there are openly racist neo-Nazis and kooky leaders of ragtag guerilla armies (who love dropping bombs on residential apartment blocks) marching around in parliament and they have literally zero chance of providing proper governance for that country, regardless of anything Russia does or does not do.
The Ukrainian and Russian languages are very similar and there’s no clear line between people who are ethnic “Ukrainian” and ethnic “Russian”. Some people act, live and think like Russians but live in Ukraine and the border between one country and the other is just an artificial line on a map. Poverty is endemic and everyone who can get out of the country has already left. The situation is muddy and complex, and there are no angels or saints.
Whatever Russia has done in Eastern Ukraine, it is far less than the United States or its European allies would have done in a similar situation. Despite all of the propaganda and hyperbole, it looks like my prediction is still holding true, and while I feel sorry for the suffering of the ordinary people in the region, I hardly fear any Russian menace to my new home in the Republic of Moldova no matter who wins (or loses) the elections.
At the end of the day, the situation ahead of tomorrow’s vote is much like that in most countries, a choice between a lesser evil and a greater evil. If I could vote, though, I’d choose the “lesser” evil in this case, the maintaining of close economic and political ties to Russia, something I’d never imagined myself ever saying.